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Vampire Weekend Reckon With the Divine (Again) on Only God Was Above Us

The band’s first album in five years leans on their refined baroque rock and poetic lyricism
Vampire Weekend (photo credit: Michael Schmelling)

Vampire Weekend – Only God Was Above Us
(Columbia Records)

Vampire Weekend have been thinking about mortality. 

Only God Was Above Us takes its title from a front-page New York Daily News headline quoting the panicked survivor of Aloha Airlines Flight 243. Fittingly, throughout the trio’s existentially charged fifth album, they ponder contradictions of life and death over the rousing strings, buzzing rhythms, and austere baroque pop production that made their name. 

This is the band’s second album sans founding member Rostam Batmanglij, though the multi-instrumentalist, who left the full-time lineup in 2016, still serves as a co-producer on song, “The Surfer.” (2019’s Grammy-winning Father of the Bride was more or less a guest-loaded Ezra Koenig solo effort.) But Vampire Weekend can’t not sound like themselves: This blitz of a record sticks to their guns of choice, though Koenig and co. do draw from the wilder, more cacophonous end of their comfort zone.

“Connect” juxtaposes tinkling piano runs with milky synthesizers and overwhelming drums. Single “Capricorn,” by contrast, sees Koenig’s tenor vacillating between hushed delivery and his usual lilt: “Too old for dyin’ young / Too young to live alone / Sifting through centuries / For moments of your own,” he ruminates, chased by fanciful keys, as he nods to standout track “Diane Young” from Modern Vampires of the City. “Hope” ends the album on a positive (if resigned) note amidst scrappy drums, screechy guitar, and soaring trumpets worthy of Florence + the Machine.

The record plays with sonic extremes throughout, but VW stay comfortably in the preppy yet philosophical space they dominate—with the usual voice of God omnipresent in the chaos that is this record’s alpha and omega. Haunting ballad “Mary Boone” in particular channels the sacred by way of a gospel choir peppered throughout a sparsely produced track, feeling like an altar march before growing into a chugging, dance-worthy beat. 

All in all, Only God is a classic Vampire Weekend record, for those seeking exactly that. – GRADE: B

You can check out Only God Was Above Us at Bandcamp and elsewhere.

Columbia Records